Joy Williams

  • Dead Reckonings

    In Tatyana Tolstaya’s earlier short-story collection, White Walls, a character remarks, “If a person is dead, that’s for a long time; if he’s stupid, that’s forever.”

    This was marvelous, I thought, one of those wise, wise Russian sayings.

    I mentioned this to a friend.

    “Oh that’s all over the internet,” she said.

    “Really?” That was disappointing.

    She produced her device and paddled her finger across it like people do and said, “See? Here.”

    “When you’re dead you don’t know that you’re dead, and it’s the same when you’re stupid,” the screen reported.

    “But that’s entirely different,” I

  • Appetite for Destruction

    The unusually striking photograph on the cover of Mary V. Dearborn’s new biography Ernest Hemingway shows the writer in his prime in 1933 sitting on the cushioned stern of a boat, possibly his thirty-eight-foot cabin cruiser the Pilar, and aiming a pistol at the camera. He always carried guns on board to shoot sharks or, when bored or annoyed, seabirds and turtles. He was thirty-four when this photo was taken and he had recently discovered Key West and the fabulous Gulf Stream with its gigantic marlin, sailfish, and tarpon. He fished and fished and fished, insatiable. There were the heroic

  • Do We Really Need to Talk About Dylan?

    In 2012 Sue Klebold and her husband Tom popped up in Andrew Solomon’s deliriously received Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, talking about their love for their son Dylan, who with his friend Eric Harris shot and killed twelve students and a teacher and injured twenty-four others at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Both seniors, they had been planning to blow up the school and kill many more, but the bombs they built didn’t go off. Sue Klebold said some rather startling things in Solomon’s book, such as “I am glad I had kids and glad I had the kids

  • Connect the Sots

    Lucia Berlin was born November 12, 1936, and she died on November 12 sixty-eight years later, which suggests a tidiness to her time on this earth that her time on this earth certainly did not exhibit. She lived in Alaska, Chile, Mexico, and the American Southwest, loved her sister and loathed her mother, had severe scoliosis and a very large drinking problem. She was forever getting married to cads or addicts and had four sons whom she pretty much raised herself, supporting them through a series of crummy jobs—switchboard operator, ER attendant, cleaning woman. From the ’70s through the ’90s,

  • The Interpretation of Screams

    THE MAN WHO LOVED CHILDREN was published seventy-five years ago, and it remains one of the most aggressive, extraordinary, preposterously sustained, and imaginative novels ever written, even though the characters and much of the situation were based on people their author, Christina Stead, knew intimately. It seems that Stead created her family of Pollits out of sheer writerly wizardry, so grotesque and alive are they—Henny, the vicious, hysterical mother; Sam, the narcissistic, pontificating father; Louie, the dumpy, dreary issue of an earlier marriage and the brilliant, suffering, sullen

  • culture July 09, 2013

    Kafka: The Years of Insight

    Kafka was always burning his stuff, or threatening to, or demanding that others do it for him. He asked at least three women to marry him, but something always came up to thwart the nuptials. (Once it was the beginning of World War I.) One of his obsessions for a time was the sassy Milena Jesenska, who called him Frank. “Frank cannot live,” she wrote to Brod. “Frank does not have the capacity for living. . . . He is absolutely incapable of living, just as he is incapable of getting drunk.”